Sometimes you just have to be present with a camera and neat things can happen. That was my experience with getting a Painted Bunting for life bird #440. (I realize that the total is not that impressive but I’ve only been at this for about seven years.)
The last two winters we were in Texas, there was a very reliable Painted Bunting at the Falfurrias Rest Stop on Highway 281 north of Edinburg, Texas. Day after day I’d see it reported on eBird but the one day that Mary and I went up to look for it, we scoured the place with no luck. Of course, someone saw it that day afterward.
This winter, a Painted Bunting was frequenting a feeder in mid-state Vermont and most of my birder friends got to see it. My time was tied up completely with Mary’s treatment and care and I never even thought about leaving to look for it.
When I got to the Skidway Island State Park in Georgia last week, I asked the ranger as I was checking in about whether they had any birders on their staff. He introduced a young woman who gave me a quick briefing and said, “You can probably see the Painted Bunting at the feeder in the morning. They are a little skittish but the love the millet seeds.”
I had picked the park since it was highly recommended by by brother and sister-in-law and was the right distance for the daily drive I was planning. I birded that evening and picked up a few new year birds for me, including a noisy but handsome Great Crested Flycatcher.
Up before dawn, I exercised the dog, grabbed a coffee, and went over to the nature center and picked one of the empty chairs. No one was around but Tufted Titmice, Carolina Chickadees, and a couple of cowbirds came and went. Only about fifteen minutes had gone by when suddenly from the underbrush, a Painted Bunting fly to the feeder. My camera was in my lap and I was so close that I didn’t want to spook him – but just then a noisy compressor from the building’s air conditioning system kicked in and off he flew. Well, I certainly saw him.
I adjusted the camera so that I could shoot when he came back but time went by, and I knew I had to pack up and do a rather long drive. Then, he was at the cage feeder and I took some photos, more for documentation than anything.
When he left, I did as well, very happy to get this pretty bird – and that success made the trip go well, to the point that I cancelled a reservation and drove nearly 12 hours to Pennsylvania, going from tropical temperatures and brightly colored birds to drizzle and a few damp Robins. It was a long but good day.